Wednesday, July 23, 2003
A DEFENSE OF ASHCROFT: The elite consensus is that the Bush administration homeland security measures -- and the Ashcroft Justice Department -- have been an unmitigated disaster for civil liberties. The war on terror has caused a slow but steady erosion in our essential freedoms.

As a libertarian, I tend to sympathize with this logic without digging too deeply into the facts. Over time, this makes me uncomfortable -- how do I know the consensus is correct?

In that spirit, I decided to read Heather MacDonald's essay in the latest issue of City Journal, defending the homeland security measures installed since 9/11. Her precis:

The backlash against the Bush administration’s War on Terror began on 9/11 and has not let up since. Left- and right-wing advocacy groups have likened the Bush administration to fascists, murderers, apartheid ideologues, and usurpers of basic liberties. Over 120 cities and towns have declared themselves “civil liberties safe zones”; and the press has amplified at top volume a recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general denouncing the government’s handling of suspects after 9/11. Even the nation’s librarians are shredding documents to safeguard their patrons’ privacy and foil government investigations.

The advocates’ rhetoric is both false and dangerous. Lost in the blizzard of propaganda is any consciousness that 9/11 was an act of war against the U.S. by foreign enemies concealed within the nation’s borders. If the media and political elites keep telling the public that the campaign against those terrorist enemies is just a racist power grab, the most essential weapon against terror cells—intelligence from ordinary civilians—will be jeopardized. A drumbeat of ACLU propaganda could discourage a tip that might be vital in exposing an al-Qaida plot.

It is crucial, therefore, to demolish the extravagant lies about the anti-terror initiatives. Close scrutiny of the charges and the reality that they misrepresent shows that civil liberties are fully intact. The majority of legal changes after September 11 simply brought the law into the twenty-first century. In those cases where the government has expanded its powers—as is inevitable during a war—important judicial and statutory safeguards protect the rights of law-abiding citizens. And in the one hard case where a citizen’s rights appear to have been curtailed—the detention of a suspected American al-Qaida operative [Jose Padilla] without access to an attorney—that detention is fully justified under the laws of war.

I'm not completely persuaded with regard to her reasoning on the Padilla case. But it's worth a look.


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